Today, I’m in Cologne, Germany, speaking at the esteemed EMEA digital marketing conference, DMEXCO, regarding the future of digital marketing and how data activation is changing the way marketers are achieving results in ways we never thought possible.

Across the world, we are a group of digitally connected people. Those connections – how they shift on a daily basis – are, in part, what bring us here to DMEXCO to learn from each other and take some insights back to our teams. This is a unique audience – from comScore to Facebook, to Omnicom to Foursquare – each company has a diverse set of objectives as well as similar ones, and that is what excites us at Adobe. Customers are much like the leaders in marketing – their needs are slightly unique but we all are pursuing meaningful connections and simplifying an increasingly complex landscape. Data can help us do just that.

As I was flying over from the U.S., I thought about an interesting concept a colleague and I recently talked about – the airplane cockpit. All of the buttons, systems, and technology signals pilots have to monitor. As marketers, we have a lot of tools, but it hardly feels like a modern cockpit. Similar to a plane, marketers need to be able to instrument and run their campaigns, then shift to autopilot when needed, and safely land to deliver for their businesses. But automation can never supplant creativity, and that mixture of creative genius and cutting-edge tools is what the best marketers have at their fingertips.

The most critical question: At Adobe, the most critical question that marketers have is around the effectiveness of their campaigns. They want to know what worked and what didn’t. My personal belief is marketing has been slow to change, though it’s done so under the veil of near-constant innovations in technology and digital channels.

Where the answer lies: Data. To me, data activation is the change agent that can drive real business impact. It gives us the power to really understand what is working and what is not and receive those insights in real time. And then, like the early adopter can attest, the most important step is to act upon the data that matters. Data has the ability to become a common currency among marketers. Data lets marketers focus on creativity and put some of the guess work of what’s working aside.

Three emerging components of the digital ecosystem: We’ve identified three fast-growing critical trends that have the longest range potential to break through in new ways, and data is certainly one of them:

1.  Personalization – our own expectations for a personalized experience have never been higher. We have never had what we have today, which is the consumer giving us a ton of signals telling us how they want to interact with us and what they want now and in the future. Personalization is all about reaching consumers on their terms and winning them over again and again, no matter the channel or the platform or the day, time, hour or location.

Our technology has allowed the smart people over at Zalando to take an integrated approach when thinking about personalization. Headquartered in Berlin, and Europe’s top online fashion and shoe retailer, Zalando has quickly become one of the most popular brands in Germany and throughout EMEA and is recognized as one of the best e-commerce sites in the industry.

One way we have watched them innovate using technology is by looking at combining their data sets – combining search with Facebook and traditional analytics data – to capture a more complete picture of their customers and how they are using Zalando’s many digital properties. What they found was what works for Google does not work for Facebook.

They matched search data with Facebook data and it was then that they noticed a nuanced but critical pattern – their most active users would search on Google, review the product via the Facebook page, and go back to Google later to find the site and buy the shoes.

Another interesting discovery they found was on the Zalando India site. They knew men were doing the buying on the site, but as they searched the integrated data deeper they found men were buying women’s shoes. Was it a trend that men in India liked women’s shoe styles? That was unlikely. As they pulled together data from multiple sources, the small nuances illustrated the men as the purchasers at the point-of-sale but they were buying for their wives who did the shopping and researching.

This small detail made a huge impact on how the brand evolved the checkout and shopping experience for its users in India. That’s the kind of approach that makes an experience personalized – understanding the market nuances that can make a difference to the experience feeling tailored to the consumer.

2.  Mobile – reaching people through new formats. Mobile devices are being used uniquely, uncovering some powerful insights that offer actionable data around how people are engaging with brands through different mobile devices. Let’s take the biggest broadcasting event to date – the 2012 London Olympic Games. Although it is being hailed as the social Olympics, with 10M authenticated devices (almost 9x what Vancouver experienced), mobile played a big part in this event. We were fortunate enough to work with the BBC and NBC on the Olympics Live Extra streaming video solution. What we gain from some of the data around the Olympics is not just If the 219M people tuning in watched on multiple devices but How they did.

  • The data shows we watched the games on multiple screens and via the Olympics App – over 8M downloads (5x Vancouver)
  • 1/3 of the entire BBC’s coverage views were from mobile phones
  • People took the Olympics with them for the first time. Consumers were able to access the games via their PC’s (peaking at lunchtime), mobile (peaking after work hours) and tablets (which peaked from 9-10 pm on average.)

3.  Activating your data – what ties it all together and brings marketing to life across both offline and online channels. As I’ve mentioned, we are seeing the smartest marketers engage in true data activation. This is much more than just a look backwards at what has happened. Data activation uses data in real time to influence future outcomes – driving meaningful business change and has the power to forecast future outcomes. It takes the guesswork out of Media Mix decision-making so marketers can focus on creative experiences and innovation.

With attribution and forecasting, digital and traditional are coming together. We can see how they tie together and how they work. And most importantly, we can see how marketing will most likely impact the bottom line of the business tomorrow. As we shift our thinking around actionable data insights, we will continue to see marketers earn and own their seat in the boardroom, but, more importantly, we will see the human side of brands reach out and connect with individuals beyond anything we are seeing today.

In the following weeks, we will be posting some of the compelling case studies that I’ll go over today at DMEXCO, so please check back. And I hope you will reach out and share your insights regarding how we can continue to help shape the future of digital marketing.